Also called the sea cow, the manatee is the only herbivorous mammal specially designed to live its entire life in the water. The Florida manatee is at home in saltwater, as well as fresh water, but needs access to fresh water frequently. Its forelimbs are reduced to simple paddles for swimming yet are flexible enough to bring food to its mouth. The tail pumps up and down to propel the body. Though it is streamlined in shape to reduce water resistance, the manatee is a slow swimmer, averaging a speed of about three to five miles per hour.
- Manatees spend up to a third of their lives eating, and can eat up to 7.5% of their body weight everyday.
- A constant supply of molars erupts from the back of each jaw and pushes forward, forcing out the old teeth at the front as they wear out.
- Solid rib bones weigh the manatee down so it can feed on the river bottom without using a great deal of energy.